Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Not-So-Glorious Certainties of Football.

Football, any fan will be quick to assert, is a game of glorious uncertainties. I beg to differ.

Sure, there are upsets (like there are in every other sport), but if you look at the history of the World Cup, there have been far too many "certainties" for my liking. Let's take a look at just the finals for now, shall we? Here are some striking facts:

1. In 17 World Cups this far, we've had only 7 different countries lift the trophy. Even more surprisingly, the 34 teams that have competed in these 17 Finals have come from only 10 countries. I find this figure especially telling -- not only are new teams not winning the Cup, they aren't even reaching the Final!

2. In the 9 Finals since 1970 (18 teams), there's been only one entry from outside the traditional powerhouses of Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Italy and the Netherlands. (The exception of course was France in '98.)

3. The last time a team made the Final for the first time (again excluding the French exception) was the Netherlands way back in 1974. The last time we had both Finalists appearing for the first time was in the 2nd edition in 1934!

So all the "glorious uncertainties", it would appear to me, happen in the early stages of the World Cup. But once it comes down to the games that really matter, we only see regular faces! When will the Senegals and the South Koreas of this world have what it takes in them to actually win the damn thing?

Another interesting point that one realizes is that home advantage plays a crucial role as far as the Football World Cup is concerned. Here are some more facts:

1. The two countries that have one the Cup once each -- England (1966) and France (1998) -- accomplished this on home ground. The only other team to have played in the Final only a single time -- Sweden (1958) -- also did so on home turf.

2. Countries seem to do well either in their own country or not too far from it. 6 World Cups were won by the home country and only Brazil has actually managed to win the Cup on a continent other than their own (Sweden '58, Mexico '70, USA '94 and Japan '02). When one adds to this the fact that no team from either North America or Asia could realistically be given too much chance of taking the Cup, the only real 'away-continent' victory remains Brazil in Sweden '58.

3. South Korea put their home advantage to good use in the last tournament and wound up reaching the semi-finals. I don't think any home team has been knocked out of the World Cup in the Group stages.

So why do teams have such a problem traveling away from home in this sport? And when will we have some new teams winning the Cup? Any answers?

[Cross-posted on Silly Point -- here.]

Media, and What Are They Good For?

Ever watched one of those shows on TV where they have a ‘panel of experts’ debating a particular issue? Of course you have. And have you noticed how once the ‘experts’ start to run out of ammunition to attack their topic from their original viewpoint, they will invariably start to blame the media for the problem?

I remember this problem plaguing The Big Fight, when Rajdeep Sardesai used to host the show and I used to still watch it. I don’t watch it anymore but I’d bet good money the problem’s still there. No matter what the topic was or who the participants were, at least one of them would at some point look at Rajdeep and say, “Oh, but you know Rajdeep, this is all the media’s fault after all!”

And then the others would play the perfect chorus and join in. It’s surprising how easily people who were debating each other tooth and nail a minute ago can unite to heap blame on the common enemy -- the media! I remember the media getting blamed for everything from Sourav Ganguly’s axing from the Indian national squad to the crash in the stock markets.

Even interviews often go down the same road. They start off all merry and bright, but as soon as the interviewee realizes that he or she has no credible points left, it’s time for some healthy media-bashing!

“Of course, the blame for this whole reservations issue lies with the media! If they didn’t focus so much on these students protesting and going on hunger strikes and setting themselves on fire [and what not], there wouldn’t be such a big fuss about it at all!”

To be very fair -- the Indian media aren’t the greatest. I mean, they could do with a little flak coming their way.

I read this headline on the sports page of one of leading English dailies:
“Breaking Records is a Sign of Improvement: Shiny [Wilson]”

Really, Ms Wilson? How bright of you! I’m sure Scotland Yard is desperately in need of someone with the proficiency for perspicacious observation that you display.

Then of course there’s the ‘Breaking News’ epidemic that’s hit news channels across the country. Everything is breaking news! A couple of days ago I saw the following scrolling at the bottom of one of the news channels:

Huh? To me that’s about as ‘breaking’ as saying George Bush is still President of the United States of America!

I can’t imagine a CNN news show winding off with:
“To remind you once again of our BIG story of the day -- George Bush is still President of our country. [Shakes head] Unbelievable! Well folks, that’s all we have for you tonight. I’m Alan Smith. Good night and thank you for tuning in. [Smiles]”

Monday, May 29, 2006

Dreams or Nightmares?

I haven’t been having too many nightmares lately, only pleasant dreams.

You might think this is a desirable situation, but I don’t agree. Personally, I prefer having a nightmare to having a dream. There’s something more pleasurable about waking up all sweaty and grateful just to be alive than waking up wanting to yank all your hair out in frustration because Alicia Silverstone isn’t really your girlfriend!

See what I mean? It’s always more fun waking up from a nightmare. Besides, I believe there’s a study that has linked dreams (but not nightmares) to premature balding in men. They could not figure out why exactly this should be but I think all the frustrated hair-pulling-out might have a part to play somewhere.

Here’s the question for today:
Is it incest if you sleep with a stepsibling halfsibling? (One common parent -- either Mom or Dad.)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Getting Away With Plagiarism

What with plagiarism having been in news so much lately, there’s a lot I don’t get about the crime. For starters, how exactly is plagiarism defined? In other words -- how much is too much? Surely, I’m allowed to take inspiration from someone else’s work, maybe even pilfer the odd detail from here or there. Who decides then that a certain piece of work has too much that is copied from other sources?

Obviously, to a certain extent what might appear like ‘plagiarism’ may, in truth, be nothing more than a strong coincidence. So we need someone to decide whether it was indeed coincidence or not. Who does this? And how? I don’t see any see, clear-cut mechanism for the same.

Is it plagiarism if I copy little bits from various different pieces of work? I don’t know.

For me, the best defense to plagiarism (if the ‘coincidence plea’ doesn’t work), is saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!” Alternatively, you could use -- “Great minds think alike!” No one will have the heart to sue your ass after you claim they have a great mind. Try it.

Too bad Ms Kaavya Vishwanathan didn’t have me on her defense counsel!

Now You See Me, Now You Don't!

Having always been the ‘If you have it, flaunt it’ kind of guy, I doubt I’d be too impressed by an Invisibility Cloak. What’s the point in owning something cool if you can’t show it off to your friends? Imagine walking into a party and no one even noticing you. Literally. How are you supposed to draw the attention of the lovely ladies present if they can’t even see you!

I’m also the careless kind of guy. I like to toss my clothes wherever I fancy at the end of the day. I can just imagine the hell I’d go through trying to find the Cloak each morning! I’d probably spend hours feeling all around the apartment, before I came across it!

Also, there isn’t much in this world that you can do with an Invisibility Cloak that is both legal and can’t be done without it. Of course, there are a lot of illegal things that come to mind, not the least of which would be ensconcing myself nicely in Aishwarya Rai’s bedroom at night. (Why, you ask? I’d placed a bet with myself long ago about whether she says her night prayers or not, and I’d like to know who won? Me or me. I swear.)

At the end of the day though, I’m the kind of guy who’d much rather have some moolah in his pocket. So I’d probably just hawk the Cloak on E-Bay and spend the money buying clothes in which I can actually see how handsome I look!

Of course, I’d add a little caveat along with Cloak -- “Always wear clean underwear. You never know when this thing might stop working!”

(In case you’re all confused, here’s the question.)

Friday, May 26, 2006

Résumé Woes

I hate having to write a résumé. For me, it’s the worst part of the whole job hunting ritual. I can take all the written tests, interviews, group discussions or anything else they have to throw at me, but somehow the résumé always gets me down. And let’s face it -- if you can’t write a good résumé, you might as well forget about the rest.

I’ve always envied writers for this reason. For a writer, the résumé is a piece of cake! Just another day at the office, you might say. For him, the résumé ought to be the easiest part of the job hunt. Actually, I’m not even sure if there are any other phases in the selection of a writer. Look at it this way -- if you want to select a good writer, all you have to do is look at his résumé! If it’s well written, select the candidate! And who cares if it’s all lies and fabrication? Just throw him into the fiction section! Which begs the very significant question -- are fiction writers expected to lie as much as they can in their résumés?

However, I somehow feel writers won’t be very good at writing résumés. It’s part of a grander theory I like to call “God does not play Nice”! (Yes, Einstein got it wrong by one letter -- he never forgave himself for that.) I mean, you can’t have the job hunting process be as simple as the job itself. That just isn’t fair. Also, this would provide irrefutable proof of the fact that I’ll make a great writer someday, since I already struggle with my résumé. Some say I’m stupid, but I feel that’s just a derogatory word for “optimistic”.

I’m off to patch together a résumé now.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Spot the Anonymous Writer!

I think there are three factors upon which depends the amount you appreciate a certain product:

1) The quality of the product
2) Your impression of the person producing the product
3) Whether you've paid for it or not

The first of these factors speaks for itself -- you're bound to appreciate a better product more than a worse one. No surprise there.

The effects of the other two factors are often underestimated.

People tend to appreciate something that comes from someone they believe is good more than something of the same quality from someone they don't know. For example, if Scott Adams were to write an anonymous guest post on this blog, I doubt people would find it quite as funny as they would were he to post the same thing on his own blog. The reason is quite simple -- you've conditioned yourself to believe that he's funny and that I'm not. I suppose he could write a post that's little more than the English translation of the national anthem of Burkina Faso and you'd drive yourself crazy trying to figure out where the joke was that you were missing. You're sure it's there -- you just can't find it! (You then take this to be an example of his brilliant "joke hiding" skills and praise him even further!)

Ever wondered how a famous author can come out with a terrible book and people still read it? Or how a great band can release a tuneless album and still have it go platinum? I sometimes believe famous artists will purposely bring out a truckload of rubbish, just so that they can sit back in their plush leather recliners and watch people make a mad scramble for it. Bottom line -- if you like someone, you'll even like his crap.

People also tend to appreciate stuff that they pay for more than stuff they get for free. I suppose the "If I've already paid for this, I might as well try to enjoy it" routine plays its part here. If I've got something I don't like for free I can easily throw it away; if I've paid for something I don't like it's not that easy to let go off.

This is the main reason why people guffaw at comedy shows by famous stand up comics. Half the time, they aren't even all that funny. But they have two major points in their favor -- they're famous and you've paid an entry fee! Try telling the same jokes at the water-cooler the next day and watch people stare blankly at you.

Oh, by the way, Scott Adams already guest-writes on this blog. Now go find out which posts are actually his!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why Go to Germany?

Why would anyone want to go to Germany to watch the football World Cup? As far as I can tell there is no special enjoyment that one would derive from watching a sporting event from the stadium as opposed to watching it on your television set.

If anything you’re better off watching the matches on TV for the following reasons:

1) You get to listen to the commentator give his opinion on the game, instead of blankly staring at twenty-two men chase after a ball in the middle of a green field.

2) If there is more than one match going on simultaneously, you can switch channels with a single press of a remote button. Teleporting yourself between stadia in different cities is slightly harder.

3) The fact that television cameras zoom in on the action means that you can actually understand what’s going on, without having to squint to figure out who passed the ball to whom.

4) Television replays mean that you don’t have to worry about missing the only goal of the match because you sneezed at the wrong time. (Stadia today are normally equipped with big screens, so this one doesn’t for much.)

I can understand a die-hard fan traveling to Germany to cheer his/her team -- I’m told you play better when the stadium is packed with people cheering you on. But surely, there can’t be that many die-hard fans out there. India, for example, isn’t even playing in the tournament -- why are all these Indians going there? If they claim they want to enjoy a nice holiday in Germany, why go now? I’m sure all the prices will have shot up through the roof since there’s so much of a rush to get there. Enjoy your German holiday some other time.

Here's something else to think about -- how many different countries have won the football World Cup so far? I think seven, if my memory serves me right. That's a surprisingly small number when one considers that this is the twentieth edition of the tournament and football is played everywhere! Just to put things into perspective, we've had eight cricket World Cups and five different countries have lifted the crown there. And remember how few countries play cricket as compared to football. What do you think is the reason for this oligarchy of sorts in world football?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bombay Masala

The stereotype of the “South Bombay Snob” might not be merely a stereotype after all. My cousins and I were sitting at Café Mocha near Churchgate, contentedly smoking a hookah, when two good-looking, well-dressed girls approach to sit at the table next to us.

The place at this time is really crowded and everyone’s cramped up pretty close to each other. One of the girls bumps into the table next to us and a glass of water on the table falls, spilling water onto my cousin - Austin’s - jeans. Both girls would have obviously noticed this - they were looking forward and my cousin gave a little yell of disgust when it occurred.

However, these two females then proceed to sit down at the table as if nothing had happened! I couldn’t believe my eyes! The least they could have done was apologized. Austin doesn’t tell them anything because, as he explains to me, “It won’t make any difference or magically dry my jeans.”

While I agree with his logic to a point, I still can’t believe someone can spill water on a stranger in a coffee shop and not even attempt to apologize for it.

They didn’t hang around for too long though, and left about five minutes later. Or maybe they moved to some other table inside, taking their evil to new places. I’m beginning to believe there might be something to stereotypes after all!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Money for Nothing (… and No Chicks for Free!)

In the last 5-7 years, Poona-Bombay travel has changed drastically. This can be attributed to two reasons – the Expressway and Volvo buses.

A decade ago, the most obvious choice of transport for someone wanting to travel from one of these cities to the other was by train. The Deccan Queen, in all probability. The only other viable option was one of the State Transport run buses (ST’s for short). However, these suffered from a multitude of problems, ranging from a terrible suspension to dirty seats, from windows that wouldn’t close properly (leaving you to contend with a chilly draught if you happened to be traveling on a cold night) to ones that closed but rattled so hard that your head hurt by the end of the journey.

Almost everyone preferred to travel by train – it was faster, more comfortable and even cheaper!

Then came along two things that changed that. First, the government built an Expressway between Poona and Bombay. This cut down on the time required to commute by road between the two cities and also improved the comfort factor.

And secondly, a spate of new buses, which were advertised to be ‘Volvo Buses’ arrived on the scene. (I presume this means that they’re manufactured by Volvo, unless it’s just a new, not-so-cool nickname.) These buses were larger than the normal buses (both in physical size and the size of the hole they cut in your pocket) and were air-conditioned. More significantly, they were new unlike the century old relics that one had to travel in previously.

Initially, all of these buses were run by private agencies. They would make several stops within the city itself to pick up passengers before hitting the Expressway. (The ST’s wouldn’t do this – they started from the bus station and headed out of the city immediately.) This was good news for most people as it meant almost everyone had a ‘Volvo stop’ within 10 minutes of their home. A similar system was followed in the destination city upon arrival. Hence most people could now also alight much closer to where they were staying than previously.

Add to this the fact that the new Volvos had a television screen on which they showed an ‘in-flight’ movie, and it’s easy to see why, for most people, the Volvo overtook the train as the standard means of transport.

However, everything was not as dandy as it seems. Not for me, at least. After having traveled by Volvo a couple of times, I soon realized that all the reasons I was paying extra to travel by Volvo were actually working against me! Incredible but true!

1) The New ‘Air Suspension’:

I didn’t like the new ‘air suspension’ because it had a slow, swaying effect. It made me feel like I was in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean. Within a few minutes, I would be as sick as a dog!

2) The Air-conditioning:

I didn’t like the fact that the bus was air-conditioned for the simple reason that it meant all the windows were shut tight. This in turn implied that I couldn’t get any fresh air on my face, and when coupled with point no. 1, it didn’t leave me in a very jolly state. It aggravated my queasiness to no end and I had the most torrid time of my life. The closed windows also left me few options about where to be sick, since these buses do not always provide you with vomiting bags.

3) The Pick-up Stops:

These are supposed to be a boon but they’re the biggest bane of all. I live not ten minutes from the bus station in Poona and would always catch the bus at the beginning itself. Also, I would alight at the last stop in Bombay. This meant I had to face at least an hour (sometimes two, if traffic was bad) of meandering in the city at both ends of my journey. This added a good 50% to the time I spent in traveling, and since my motion sickness was at its worst in city traffic I felt like killing myself. Additionally, I would often be staying at Colaba in Bombay – a short bus ride away from the last train station (Victoria Terminus), but a much farther distance from anywhere on the bus route.

4) The Movie:

The movie shown in a Volvo is invariably a low-grade, cheesy Hindi movie. The kind I absolutely detest. And the volume would, without exception, be loud enough for a deaf man to hear! The movie thus meant that I could never fall asleep as fast as I would have liked to. (When you’re queasy, you can never fall asleep too fast!) I don’t understand why they can’t provide for earphones if they want to screen a wretched Hindi film!

Thus even now, I still prefer traveling to Bombay via train, or if that’s not possible then by an ST bus. Give me the rattling ST with the wind in my face, any day! I don’t see why I would want to pay extra money to reach later and all green in the face.

I’m traveling to Bombay tomorrow morning and I’ll be damned if I step anywhere near a Volvo!

(For an interesting, adventure-filled Poona-Bombay experience – see here.)

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Think You’re Really Smart? Think Again.

Last night we were talking of extended sleeping habits and someone said that only babies sleep 11 hours a day. Kunal Sawardekar quietly says, “Babies are smarter than we give them credit for.”

“Smart? What does he know,” I think to myself. “I’d like to meet the baby that can solve quadratic equations or expound upon Post-Keynesian Economics!”

But a little thought put into the matter convinced me that he was quite right -- babies are way smarter than we think! Imagine having to do nothing all day expect sleep, eat, shit, look cute and maybe burp once in a while! What’s smarter, I ask you? Working your ass off to earn millions? Or doing the things I just described above everyday?

Sure, they may not know much about science, philosophy, literature, art or anything of the sort. They may not be able to change a flat tire or cook. They certainly can’t hold their own in a debate. But here’s the deal -- they don’t have to! They’ve already got it made!

People with dogs often tell me that dogs are much smarter than cats. “No, they’re not,” I counter.

“Try teaching a cat how to pull a sled, fetch the newspaper or catch a Frisbee in its mouth,” they offer, with a look of smug satisfaction on their faces.

“Yeah,” I say. “My argument exactly!”

Cats are smart enough to see work for what it really is -- work! It’s not that they’re so stupid that they can’t learn any of these tasks; it’s just that they’re so smart they don’t want to! Meanwhile the dog, stupid as it is, lets itself get trained into performing silly tasks for its master. That’s not smart.

I’m thoroughly convinced that babies, if they wanted, are smart enough to take over the world. Heck! Think about it -- they already have! All their needs are serviced by a willing posse of adults. What’s the hardest thing they have to do all day? Get pinched on the cheek every once in a while. And put up with “Oh! What cutie little baby! Aww...”! That’s about it! Life’s a breeze!

I’m going to feed my cat now.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Me Not Gujarati, Me Goan!

Were I to die in my sleep tonight, it wouldn't really bother me much -- for I can safely say that I've now done it all. The latest feather in my cap was being mistaken for a gujju! (For those of you not familiar with the term “gujju”, look up “fat, oily, dishonest businessman” in the dictionary. Incidentally, the fact that they hail from Gujarat is merely coincidental. )

This afternoon I was standing in college talking to two friends, when two guys approached us. “Aap Gujarat ke log hain nah?”, they asked us. (“You are from Gujarat, aren't you?”)

“No.” We were too surprised to say much more.

Lekhin aap abhi Gujarati mein baat kar rahe the?”, they refused to let it go so easily. (“But you were just speaking in Gujarati?”)

“No!” We had been speaking in English -- not quite the Queen’s perhaps, but certainly not bad enough for it to be mistaken for a whole other language!

They then said that they wanted to know what we thought about the college since they were thinking of getting their ward admitted here. (Last time I checked two men couldn’t come together and bear offspring, so I assume one of them was an uncle or something!)

Never one to let pass an opportunity to relieve the college of at least one lucrative, fees-bearing student, I told them that the college was not worth getting admission into and that I would advise them to try elsewhere. “This place is way too strict,” I say. They thought I was kidding -- people tend to think that too often these days.

Then they left, shaking their heads. Off to seek a “true Gujarati opinion”, no doubt.

Why were they so keen on asking a “Gujarati”? And how deaf do you have to be for English to sound like Gujarati? Wonders will never cease.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

On Your Time, Not Mine!

Indians, and I’m not talking of those with feathers in their heads and names like Big Chief Skookum, have, in general, very little respect for others. Especially other people’s time. I’ll give you two examples of what I’m talking about.

1) Punctuality:

I wouldn’t be surprised if no Indian language has a word for “punctuality”, because it seems like this word doesn’t exist for an Indian. Someone showing up for a 7.00 p.m. engagement at 7.15 might well be the first person there! An invitation that says 8.30 automatically implies 9.00. Arriving on time, would only surprise the hosts, who in all probability would still be getting ready.

This is something that everyone knows. It’s ‘expected’ that everyone will be late. And it’s contagious. If I believe no one else is going to show up on time, then I have little incentive to do so myself. I find this extremely irritating when I’m meeting someone. However, the simplest method of dealing with it is to set an adjust factor and arrive suitably late yourself, so that you’re actually ‘on time’. Of course, if by some chance the other person happens to make it on time, you look bad.

As the old joke goes, IST (Indian Standard Time) is always an hour behind the actual time -- if you’re supposed to meet at 4.00 p.m. IST, then expect it to be at 5.00 p.m.!

2) Queues:

This is the other word that’s missing from some Indians’ vocabularies -- ‘queue’. It’s not uncommon to see people blatantly ignore a well formed queue and push their way to the front of it, all in the name of “getting their work done quickly”. Telling them that’s there’s a queue and they should respect it is either met with an “Oh, my thing will only take a minute...” or an “I have some extremely important work elsewhere... [and hence can’t be bothered to follow your quaint queuing customs]”. I find this both ridiculous and disrespectful.

When I was at the Passport Office last month, I witnessed two ladies not only brazenly break the queue but also chastise the guy who objected by claiming that he “did know how to respect women” and suchlike. Unfortunately this load of horse manure cowed down the man -- though I’m not sure why -- and he decided letting two tempestuous matrons get ahead of him was less of an evil than facing their illogical arguments.

Such uncouth (or un‘queue’th, if you wish) behavior is witnessed everywhere from government offices to wedding buffets. At this year’s annual dinner in college, we placed ourselves at the end of queue that had formed at the buffet table. After us, at least 20-30 students arrived to eat; but after that we were still almost the last people in the queue! Almost all of them chose to edge their way into the queue wherever they could!

What is so hard in coming on time or waiting your turn in a queue? Why not learn how to respect other people’s time for once.

(Okay, I’m late for a meeting now. I’m Indian, you know!)

Get Rid of the Reservations or I’ll Smack You With My Caliper!

Few news articles these days, whether in print or on the TV, are complete without a smattering of pictures depicting a rambunctious set of students protesting the reservation of seats in colleges and other institutions of higher education in the country. These students are invariably garbed in the laboratory coats that are the trademark of medical schools all over.

Far as I know (which isn’t much when you stop to think about it), these reservations relate to various different kinds of educational institutes. Why is it then, that I see only medical students taking to the streets in protest? Where are the engineers and suchlike?

Maybe it’s because most of these ‘students’ aren’t even students in the first place! They’re just people picked up by those wanting to organize a protest and paid a little for their troubles. And if you are going to get people to pose as students, what better way to display their identity than by dressing them in a lab coat and draping a stethoscope around their neck! Somehow it packs more of a punch than handing them a vernier caliper or a micrometer!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Veni, Non Vidi, Vinci! (I Came, I was not Seen, I Went Home!)

As the latest thriller titled “Will You Get to Watch The Da Vinci Code in a Theater?” further unfurls, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has, after watching the film, wiped its hands clean of the matter (which with it had no role getting them dirty in the first place). For the record, the minister says, “As a viewer I think that the movie is ok as a work of fiction.” The final decision though will be left to the Censor Board.

This is very interesting, because it shares certain similarities with the crucifixion of Jesus himself. The Christian religious leaders in the country play the role of the Pharisees. The other Christians in the country are like the Jews -- they don’t really care about the issue, but can be easily (mis)led (read: worked up) by the people they obey. The movie itself plays the role of Jesus. (Some irony there!) The role of Pontius Pilate has now been effectively pulled off by the I&B Ministry.

Of course, a bit of biblical knowledge is a prerequisite to understanding the comparison. Here’s what happens though. The Pharisees are all upset about Jesus proclaiming that he’s the Son of God. According to them, it’s completely blasphemous because it goes against their Jewish beliefs. (If you think Jewish beliefs today are strict -- Boy! You should have lived two thousand years ago!) So the Pharisees want him dead.

They catch him and take him to their High Priest who in turn sends him to Pontius Pilate -- the Roman Governor of that part of the land. Pilate questions Jesus and finds nothing wrong with the man. However, the crowd that has gathered for the trial are unwilling to let the man go free. So Pilate says that he does not want the man’s blood on his hands and is therefore leaving him for the crowd to decide what is to be done. They wanted to crucify him and the rest, as we all know, is history. (Unless of course you prefer to believe the movie!)

Now match the characters and you’ll realize the comparison I’ve been yakking about. (Or not. You have to have an imagination as fertile as mine!)

Want to Read Your Friend's Mail?

I just realized that most people keep the same password for almost all their online accounts -- all their mail accounts, their blog account, their feed reader account etc. Hence you manage to get access to their password for any one of them and you immediately have access to all!

So that leaves us with the question of how to "get access to" any one of their passwords. Not the hardest thing in the world. Create a web site that allows people to share photos or does something else that's really useless but everyone using it thinks is uber-cool. Then you send your friend an email invitation asking him to create an account at this site and start sharing photos or whatever.

You then take the password that he saves for himself at this fake site of yours and you try it on all his mail accounts. I'd be willing to bet that it works on at least one of them! Presto! You're in. (One of the first the mails you'll see is the very invitation that you sent him!)

In case you're wondering how stupid someone would have to be to use a common password for everything -- only as stupid as someone who would click on a link in an email that says:

Hey hot_hands@aol.com,

Your friend Martha has invited you to join Zorpia, an online photo-sharing portal! Click here to join today!

Okay, that should just about wind up today's lesson in "Social Hacking". Tomorrow we get to the geekier stuff. I need to change my passwords now.

(In case creating a web site isn't "just-another-five-minute-task" for you, there already are web sites that do just this. But going DIY is always more fun.)

Jumping on the Banned-Wagon

Christians in India might appear to be a docile lot in comparison with their non-issue raising counterparts from other religions, but throw them a good bone and they won’t fail to snap at it. The latest bone, of course, is the film The Da Vinci Code.

Here’s a really interesting article by Vir Sanghvi on the issue. It raises the point, not completely in jest, that ‘protesting’ seems to be something that Indians love. He says:

Even though the film The Da Vinci Code is made by Christians in a Christian country and will be watched by millions of other Christians all over the Christian world, India’s Christians say that they are so offended that it should be banned in our country. Never mind that the rest of the world will see it.

India’s Christians are “Indian first and Christian second”. How then, can they not protest such a blatant affront to their religion?

It’s also interesting that the film should meet with so much more protest than the book that it is based on met with. Is this because more Indians watch movies than read? If so, the country’s in a terrible shape.

I wonder what’s next? The banning of the terms like ‘chrissakes’? (Or maybe even ‘geez’. Short for ‘Jesus’, you know!)

Monday, May 15, 2006

Chocolate or Vanilla?

Someone recently asked me whether I preferred chocolate or vanilla.

My reply:-

"That all depends on what you are referring to, of course. If you mean 'girls', I'd definitely prefer vanilla (and no, it's not called 'being racist'); if you mean 'sex', I'd take chocolate any day."

She first fainted (as all "good Indian girls" are wont to do on hearing stuff of this sort), then recovered, and clarified that she was referring to ice cream!

"Nah," I shook my head in a display of my vanishing interest. "In that case, I'd just pass on both and get myself some butterscotch"

What would you choose?

The Great Train Robbery

Non-Spoiler Alert: Even though the following article is about a book, it contains no plot details or any other such information that might reduce the enjoyment you derive out of reading the same.

I just finished reading The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton. The book describes in elaborate and fascinating detail a heist on a shipment of gold from a train in England in 1855. It's quite obviously based on 'The Great Gold Robbery of 1855' with which it shares many similarities right down to the names of the conspirators involved. However, here's the part that I don't get -- on the first page of the book, even before the index, is the customary disclaimer. It reads [ad verbatim] as follows:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously and are not construed to be real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

What? Come again? There is nothing, and I repeat nothing, coincidental about the events, names, persons etc in the book or I'm the Queen of England! Except for a few minor twists, the book describes the actual robbery down to the very finest of details. It's even written in a manner as if it is supposed to be narrating a true event. (For example, the author often states that such and such was later discovered during so and so's testimony.)

Now it doesn't really make much difference to me whether the book is based on a true story or not -- it's a brilliant book either way. But I'm totally flummoxed by the proviso stated in the beginning. Any light thrown on the matter would be welcome.

One of the reasons why I liked the book so much is because it's an excellent insight into Victorian England. Crichton's put a lot of research into this novel, and it clearly shows. He frequently digresses to provide some interesting facts or anecdotes about the England of the time.

The book is also a veritable treasure trove of criminal speak. It's a whole different language, I tell you. Terms like "magsman", "flash pull", "turn nose", "screwsman", "crusher", "miltonian", "crow", "rampsman", "buzzer", "bug-hunter", etc fill the book and add their own flavor to the story. I'm sure quite a few of these terms still exist among the criminal class in Britain even today.

Just to clue you in on how some of these terms derive -- let's take "turn nose". A "nose" is someone who squeals to the cops, and "to turn nose" is to become a squealer in return for some favor from the police. This term comes from the fact that a squealer "blows" on you, quite like you "blow" your nose. Hence, "nose" came to signify a squealer.

To conclude, here's today's lesson in British slang - Cockney Rhyming Slang. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

This One's For the Ladies

If you're female (valid for 76.40% of my readers), you're bored (valid for 98.57% of my readers) and you happen to have a Jack Hammer Johnson conveniently lying around (valid for 12.43% of my readers) -- here's something for you. (Parental Guidance Advisory)

If not, too bad.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Orkut and Arsenal - the Perfect Combination of Inanity!

Orkut as an “online community that connects people through a network of trusted friends” (as it advertises itself) sucks. Orkut as a source instant entertainment however, never fails to let one down.

Two such examples can be found here and here.

A few days ago, I stumbled across the “I Hate Arsenal” community on Orkut. One of topics in the community was “Anti-Arsenal Jokes”. Here are a sample few:-

Q - Why doesn’t Arsene Wenger look down in the shower?
A - Because he doesn’t like to look down on the unemployed.

Q - Why doesn’t Sol Campbell look down in the shower?
A - He doesn’t take a shower!

The evening before the big Arsenal v/s Man Utd game, Paul Scholes tells his teammates to take the weekend off while he faced Arsenal alone. The rest of the Man Utd team is surprised but they comply, and duly jet off to a sunny, tropical island for the weekend. At match time, they decide to follow the game via regular updates on their cell phones.

The match begins and at the five minute mark they see that the score reads “Man Utd - 1, Arsenal - 0.” They’re delighted -- Scholes must have managed to score against 11 men. Regular updates keep coming in every five minutes but the score doesnt change in the first half and Man Utd go into the break with a one goal lead. The second half continues in much the same vein and at the end of the regulation 90 minutes the score still reads 1-0. Just as they are about to celebrate the victory however, they get a final update that Arsenal has managed to score in injury time, thereby drawing the game. Nevertheless, they’re pretty excited that Scholes has managed to hold Arsenal to a draw all by himself.

When they return to Manchester the next day, Scholes meets them at the airport. They begin to congratulate him when they realize that he’s extremely gloomy.

“What’s the matter?” they ask. “You held off a team of eleven all by yourself, and surely that’s no small feat!”

“Well,” replies Scholes. “And we’d have won the damn thing too... if I hadn’t been sent off in the 7th minute!”

Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?

Arsene Wenger:
“From my position in the dug-out I did not see the incident clearly so I cannot really comment. However, I do think that he gets picked on by opposition players and fans who are clearly chickenophobic.”

I’m sure the few Arsenal fans out there have probably gotten together and formed their own “I Hait Manchestor Unitid” community. (It goes without saying that Arsenal fans have terrible spelling.) They’ve probably tried to come out with a bunch of Man Utd jokes too. However this effort must have been seriously impeded by both their complete lack of intelligence and the fact that, unlike their own club, the first four letters of ‘Manchester United’ don’t spell out one’s posterior!

Arsenal, I was told, gets its name from the fact that it’s situated next to an ammunitions factory. This is also the reason behind why they’re called ‘The Gunners’. (I used to think this was because all the cooler names had already been taken!) What I’d really like to know is where their manager Mr Arsene Wenger gets his name from! There are forty-three theories to explain his unusual first name, all of which hinge on the fact that his parents had given up on him even before he was born.

I don’t know what it is about Arsenal, but they lend themselves to ridicule almost as much as Mr Bush’s face is custom made for caricaturing. (What? You’ve never noticed this? Look carefully next time. Or maybe it’s just me.)

Oh, and don’t bother to write in about how great Arsenal are and how Man Utd suck like a thirsty baby going at juicy nipple because I don’t follow the EPL and I’m a fan of neither of these teams.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Fantasy? Thanks, but I'd Rather Be Eaten Alive By Gandalf!

I don’t like fantasy movies. Actually, I’m not too fond of movies at all. I don’t watch much TV at home, and so sitting myself in front of the screen for two hours while watching a movie isn’t my favorite activity. And of course it also involves managing to catch the movie at the start, the chances of which are too negligible for my liking. Thus, I rarely ever watch a movie at home.

What about movie halls? To be very frank, my bed offers a cheaper place to fall asleep. True, I may not get the comfort of air conditioning, but at least I don’t have to pay a hefty admission fee and then have pop-corn and other edible substances hurled at me in disgust by people who are disturbed by my snoring. Oh and yeah, I prefer to snooze in a supine position.

However, having said all this, there are some kinds of movies that I can bear - even enjoy at times. For example - comedy. Especially the silly teenage kind. Like the American Pie series or The Girl Next Door. I’m not too fond of animated movies like Shrek or Ice Age, but will condescend to putting up with them if I have a cute girl sitting next to me. Cries of “Oh! Isn’t Sid just the cutest!” will go unheard by me thanks to the earplugs in my ears.

Another genre that I like are the ones based on true stories. For example, Cinderella Man. Even though the movies Titanic (both of the ones that I saw) weren’t great at all, I sat through the entire thing purely since they were based on true stories. Okay, I confess Kate Winslet’s uninhibited shedding of clothing in the more recent one possibly had a small role to play, but since those clips are available everywhere I didn’t really have to catch the movie for them.

However, this allows us to move smoothly into the next category of movies that I like - pornographic ones. But since any movie enthusiast worth his salt won’t consider these to be movies any more than a tennis lover would consider a streaker at Wimbledon to be part of the game, we’ll just skip right past them.

For some reason I like to see the movie if I’ve already read the book. Hence I’ve seen most of the movies that have been made out of John Grisham novels. None of the movies come anywhere close to being as good as the books (no movie can anyway), but I still enjoyed them. A Beautiful Mind obviously scores high on my list by virtue of being both a true story and a book that I’ve read.

Now to get to the movies I hate - fantasy films! Okay movie freaks hold your breath - I hate (detest, dislike, loathe, abhor, have an aversion for, look askance at etc) the following movies:-

1) The Lord of the Rings (all three parts)
2) Star Wars (all six-too-many parts)
3) The Matrix (I hated the first, ‘reloaded’ my gun whenever anyone spoke about the second, and positively ‘revolted’ when the third came out)
4) Harry Potter (all how-many-ever movies)
5) The Lion King (or anything else that has crawled its way out of Walt Disney’s ass)
6) Star Trek (on both big screen and small)

This is list far from exhaustive! Almost as far as that ‘galaxy far away’, I might say so that fantasy freaks understand. All five of them, that is. On second thoughts - wait, I doubt they even have minds any more. Fantasy does that to you.

(Oooh, I see the light-sabers coming out (accompanied by that irritating sound that all fantasy freaks make while they draw their imaginary light-sabers). Mommy, I’m scared. I’ve antagonized five crazy freaks.)

Prostitution - Is it really Bad?

Imagine your daughter coming up to you and telling you she wanted to become a prostitute when she grew up. Makes you cringe, doesn't it? Why? Because prostitution as a profession is (and has always been) looked down upon. But I've yet to come across a cogent argument for why this is so.

Let's look at what prostitution actually is. Someone offering sex in return for money. (Okay, so the 'someone' is almost always female, but I'll get to that in a little bit.) If both the hooker and the patron are satisfied with this arrangement, then what's the harm in it? How is it different from you going to your baker and buying a loaf of bread? How does it differ from you going to a lawyer to ask for advice on a particular legal matter? In all these cases, we have two parties. One who is willing to offer a product/service at a certain rate; and another who's willing to buy that product/service at that rate. How is this wrong?

Because, you argue, the 'service' being offered by the prostitute is sex! "Bah!" I offer in disgust. What's the difference? Really.

Then you continue, waxing eloquent on how prostitution is an abuse of the female body and an insult to all females. My utterance of disgust now turns into a derisive chuckle. There were two people having sex and only one of them got paid. You figure out who came off better yourself.

You then say it tarnishes the sanctity of sex, a concept which to me is about as real as the Loch Ness Monster. I've always thought sex was about the pleasure; now where did "sanctity" and "holiness" come from? What is it about sex that makes you feel it shouldn't be sold just like any other service?

Prostitution is illegal in many countries - India being one of them. This of course, doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. It just means that it doesn't exist legally. This in turn means that most brothels normally end up paying the cops to avoid getting raided. Every so often, though, one reads in the papers about brothels that are raided, possibly so that the police can show that they have been doing something.

In the course of such raids one invariably hears about girls who have been 'rescued'. These girls are normally brought in to bigger cities (like Poona) from places like Bengal, Orissa, Bihar etc under the promise of work of some kind, and then forced into prostitution (which in all fairness is 'work of some kind'). I'm not saying I condone anyone being forced into prostitution - I don't - but I fail to see what is wrong with voluntary prostitution and why it should be illegal. In the European countries where it is legalized most of the prostitutes are in it voluntarily and that's the way it should be.

Now, to address the issue about all prostitutes being female, and therefore the profession is an insult to females. It's simple - there only exists a market for female prostitutes. If there were enough women around looking for male prostitutes, men would automatically take up the job. It's a fundamental law of economics. So again, I don't see anything wrong in most prostitutes being women.

Why does a woman get so offended if someone calls her a hooker or a whore? Why should the terms be derogatory? All they refer to is a person who earns a living by offering sex. If there isn't anything wrong in that - and there isn't - then why get offended by the terms?

I wish by the time I have kids, things reach a stage where a parent can be proud of their daughter's dreams of becoming a hooker.

Update: Oh, and by the way, most of these arguments extend nicely to the pornography industry too. And yes, I think that's another industry which has come under the cosh and been illegalized for no worthy reason.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Fake Note (... and the Stupid Guy)

Last night, after we had dinner at Hite Bar, I walked to a nearby tapri. You know the kind - where they sell cigarettes, mints, candy and suchlike. The owner of the tapri was deep in conversation with another customer when I arrived. They seemed to be discussing land prices and the customer actually had a writing-pad open, in which he was noting down some details.

I bought a couple of cigarettes and some mints, which came to about Rs 10, and handed the guy a 50 rupee note. He gave me the appropriate change, and while I was putting the change away and searching for a match box to light up, he removed another 50 rupee note from his drawer. He began to feel both of them in his hands.

He looked at me and said, “This note is fake! I can’t accept it. Give me another one.”

“I don’t have another one,” I explained to him, speaking the truth. Since the match box that was lying on the counter was empty, I hadn’t lighted the cigarette as yet. So I told him, “See, if you think it’s fake then give it back to me and here’s your change and the stuff I bought. Take them back. I don’t have anything else. I just received the note from Hite Bar down the lane, and I’ll return it to them if nobody else takes it.” (This last part was a lie, I’d had the note since the previous day.)

Now here’s where things start to take a strange turn. I expected him to return the note to me so that I could try my luck getting it exchanged at Hite Bar. However, he turns to his friend the other customer and gives him the note to feel too. They both exchange a series of comments between them about how the note is definitely counterfeit. (For the record, even I felt like there was something weird about the note. I didn’t look or feel completely right to me.)

The customer then tells him, “Ok, I’ll take the note.” I’m pretty surprised. Why would anyone want to take a phony bill? But he duly accepts the note from the tapri guy and hands him two twenties and a ten. Then I get an even bigger shock.

This man, whom I’ve never seen before and never wish to see again, as he neatly places the bill in his wallet, looks at me and says, “Look here, I’m taking this note now; but if no one accepts it from me, you’ll take it back, won’t you?” I would have been sure he was kidding, except for the fact that there wasn’t the slightest bit of humor in his tone. In fact, if anything, it was a scary voice. (Guys you meet at tapris at eleven at night aren’t normally the most pleasant anyway.)

“Ummm,” I mumbled, not quite sure of what to say. What does he expect? That I leave my business card with him? Or do I know him from somewhere? Surely, I can’t be that famous. (Not yet, anyway!) “I’m willing to take the note back right now if you want. But I’m not quite sure what exactly you mean.”

“See,” he tells me. “Since you don’t have anything else and the guy won’t sell you the cigarettes for this note, I’m taking it instead.” (Somehow this made me feel like I were a drug-addict in desperate need of some dope. I could do without the cigarettes, you know, and I’d told them that!) He continued, “But - if I can’t get rid of this note anywhere else, you will have to take it back.”


I couldn’t finish lighting the cigarette and half-run my way back to the rest of the group fast enough. I kept looking back, half-expecting him to be following me after realizing the folly of his actions. However, it looked like Mr Scary was back to discussing real estate.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Big Fat Angry Moslem

I chanced upon a fight on the street two days ago. The word "fight" is a bit of a misnomer here - it was too one-sided to call it that. When I reached the scene, there was a small crowd of people looking-on. In the center of the action was a young lad of about 14, two older men, in their late 50's, and a plumpish woman of about 40. It was around two in the afternoon, and tempers seemed to be as hot as the burning sun overhead.

One of the men, a fierce-looking Moslem gentleman with a gray beard, had caught hold of the boy's collar and was soundly berating him in Hindi. Expletives were flying out thick and fast from the man's lips, most of them bearing upon the boy's suspect parentage and his maternally incestuous tendencies. The lad was silent, and I didn't blame him. Two scooters were parked next to them, having a role to play somewhere in the drama, I suspected.

It was hard to gather much information out of the yelling. In fact, once you removed the cussing, there wasn't much else left at all. But I figured, not unreasonably, that the young boy had been riding his scooter too rashly and had crashed into these people's vehicle and was now hearing it for that. Of course, the fact that the boy was the one driving rashly was merely a surmise on my part, and it could well have been the other party's fault all the way.

One thing was fairly obvious - the chastising wasn't going to stay verbal for long. A couple of passers-by stepped in and tried to pacify the old man. "He's just a boy," they told him. The man refused to listen to any such talk. He raised his arm and tried to smite the young chap a blow to the head. One of the other men managed to stop him in time though.

Up to this point, I had thought that the woman was with the two men. But now she grabbed hold of the young boy and pulled him away, yelling something at the two men at the same time. She herded the boy in front of her to one of the scooters, which they then rode away on, with the boy riding. As they were leaving she threw one final retort about how she was surprised that the man could use all these "nice" words while wearing the Moslem prayer hat.

The man, for his part, wasn't too pleased about the sudden exit of his young foe. He still looked red enough to explode, and for a second one might have thought he would catch one the onlookers and complete his tirade on him instead! But somehow the guy who had intercepted and the man's companion managed to calm him down enough for them to get onto their scooter and leave the scene.

I left too; with some stuff to think about. Was the boy old enough to possess a valid driver's license? It didn't look that way to me. The number of children that drive around in this city without a license is sizeable. Fewer, but still alarmingly plenty, are the number of children that drive with licenses that were illegally procured. (Because they aren't old enough, for example.)

From experience I know that a few of these young turks drive extra cautiously, for fear of getting into unnecessary trouble should they get stopped by the police. But a lot of them sit at the other extreme. For them a two-wheeler is something they've just discovered, and they ride it with gay abandon. Legally, their crime is driving without a license; morally, it is driving rashly, and thus endangering the safety of others. Which one do you think is more important?

Then of course, there's the other point of how a man in his 50's can be allowed to hit a young boy in his mid-teens. I think it's wrong. Heck! I know it is. But one could always argue that if the adolescent thinks he's old enough to drive (and apparently his Mom thought so too), then surely he should be old enough to face the music. He was as responsible for the "accident" as anyone else. So why should he be allowed to get away now by pleading "too young"?

Moral of the story - makes no difference how old you are, drive safely! (And stay well clear of angry, old Moslems!)